Saturday, December 4, 2010

With Pride We Lead: Gays in the Singaporean military

[Please take part in the latest poll on the right]

The current debate over gays in the United States military is irrelevant to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) because universal conscription is a great leveller for the SAF.

The role homosexuals serve in Singapore's defence eco-system is a taboo topic and precious little open literature can be found on this subject. This is a pity because the contribution and attitudes of gays towards military service is an important yet little known facet of Singaporeans' attitudes and commitment to defence.

My interest in the subject was triggered by a suggestion some years ago that my research on minorities in the SAF go beyond the obvious categories of race (principally Malays) and gender (women SAF regulars). Someone in a working group I had convened to informally review the contents of a private research project suggested that the research look at homosexuals and national defence.

And so it began - a thorough, objective look at the subject.

If one goes by the guesstimate that some five per cent of a given population is homosexual (whether by choice or by birth is a discussion we'll leave for another day), and when one bears in mind that some 700,000 Singaporean males have served National Service since 1967 when NS began, this means that some 35,000 gays served or are currently serving in the Singaporean military.

Going by numbers alone, this amount of defence manpower is enough to fill the order of battle for two reinforced SAF Combined Arms Divisions.

As my interlocutor put it, what was interesting about homosexuals in the Singaporean military was not the widely known yet little acknowledged fact that they even exist, but the fact that a good number go on to serve in command appointments.

Indeed, going by the sighting reports listed on a local gay portal, the prevalence of gays in the SAF appears to be a tri-Service phenomenon. All declared units in the SAF's order of battle, every air base, army camp and naval installation, plus a fair number of operationally-ready NS battalions, can be compiled from page after page of discussions as gay SAF servicemen gush over the cuties. If the information posted is to be believed, gays can be found in almost every SAF combat formation and combat service support unit and every vocation you can think of.

Homosexuals in command appointments are the minority worth studying because they face being ostracised by a defence eco-system dominated by alpha male, uber high achiever personalities. These gay-unfriendly personnel tend to demonstrate a harsh, morality police mindset that keeps gay officers in the closet.

Many SAF officers are homophobic. The notions they hold over homosexuality run the gamut from perverse views of gay and lesbian lifestyles to crass steoreotypes of homosexual behaviour. They tend to look at homosexuals as a subculture of lustful, over-sexed beings just waiting to bed the next cute NSF who strays within reach.

Despite knowing they will discriminated harshly when "outed", many gays (and lesbians) step forward to serve in uniform. Why?

The idea that a young, gay Singaporean might aspire to serve as an officer or Specialist because he shares the same conviction to Singapore as straight officer candidates is, alas, alien to the homophobes.

After some coaxing, some gay officers opened up. They shared that their convictions towards national defence and commitment towards defending Singapore are no different from every Singaporean son.

The research examined how they dealt with their sexuality in a predominately male environment and looked at conflicts of interest when executing command decisions. For example, how did they deal with CO's Night when everyone was expected to show up with their beau? Would they hesitate sending their men in harm's way or certain death during operations? Did their superiors or men under their command know? Did their men continue to respect them? These are issues that could impact an SAF unit's combat effectiveness and efficiency.

Those that gunned for a command appointment did not appear to let their sexual orientation get in the way of their determination to serve Singapore as best they could.

And while serving in command appointments, many were put in charge of fresh faced teenagers serving as full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) without any sexual tension coming between executing the responsibilities of command and their gender preference.

Among the officers who opened up, duty to country came first.

Gays in the SAF bring a fresh spin to the old SAFINCOS* motto, With Pride We Lead. All Singaporeans should be proud of them.

* SAFINCOS: Singapore Armed Forces Infantry Non Commissioned Officers' School, now replaced by an institute for Specialists.


Anonymous said...

Who cares if my officers are gay as long as they don't promote gay lifestyle to straight men like me.

Unknown said...

Nothing wrong with being a homosexual;it's just another lifestyle choice that was made.Who are we to judge them anyway?Afterall,they are doing their part and putting their sorry asses(no puns intended)on the line like we did.

Anonymous said...

As long as it is not me charging the fortified MG post...

monkeysee said...

Being Homosexual is not a "lifestyle choice" any more than being Heterosexual is. Do straight people choose to be straight? No. The idea that somehow one can choose one's sexuality is erroneous.

No one "chooses" to be discriminated against, ridiculed and belittled for who they love. The only choice involved is whether to be true to themselves, or to live in a closet that society wants to force them to live in. Especially in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Hmm ... I wonder why my (rather long) comment was deleted. I think it was as fair as any here. And I didn't argue any extreme point of view.

guojun said...

I don't care if my officers are gay or not, as long as they do what they are supposed to do and remain professional. But, many fresh NSFs straight from school probably WILL care...given that our society is so intolerant of homosexuality

David Boey said...

Hi Anonymous at 8:13PM,
The only comments deleted thus far are commercial spam.

Netizens who have followed this blog for some time will realise that I just let comments run - even comments clearly opposed to the point of view expressed.

Try again please? There could be a word limit on this comment function.


Anonymous said...

Think Sacred Band, the Theban elite unit which crushed the Spartans.

Anonymous said...

Can homosexual behavior be corrected?

Anonymous said...

This weird. There may indeed be a word limit.

But my comment appears in full right after I post, then disappears soon after.

Anyway, practical question: Has anyone been asked about their sexual orientation while in service? I've not. We've all heard about the "302" category, but it seems to be as much fiction as fact. Does it still exist? The only time I heard it talked about is when people talk about ways to "keng." But no one I know actually knows a "302." Unless they;re transgender ...

Perhaps the SAF, as an organisation, doesn't care abt your sexual orientation as long as you behave. That some people are making it out to be a lot more than it is?

Anonymous said...

I served about 9 years ago in a combat unit. I think the question is asked before NS, during your physical, in a questionnaire you have to fill in. While nobody in my unit has ever declared himself a "302" (why would they?), it was background knowledge that 302-NSFs were usually assigned admin-side jobs as clerks, and that your 302 status was "on the record" in some government database that might negatively impact any chance of future employment with the government or with the civil service -- I never ascertained if this was just an urban myth to discourage "kenging," however. Although I did not know anybody in my unit who was a 302, I knew people outside of my unit who were gay and were 302s. One was a clerk is a PDF/reservist unit (I can't remember what the other one did).